On Wednesday night the Bulls fell 96-93 to the Brooklyn Nets in a game dominated by point guard play. In the matchup, Kris Dunn—acquired by the Bulls in the ‘17 NBA Draft night trade of Jimmy Butler—had 24 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and only one turnover. But he was outplayed by Spencer Dinwiddie—he of the new three-year, $34 million contract—who turned in 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the win.
Dinwiddie’s emergence can be attributed to his perseverance over several G League stints—including a stint with the Bulls G League affiliate— that saw him get a little bit better each year.
And the fact that the Nets didn’t blink at signing him to his new deal hints at the idea that he is a player who is very dedicated to putting in the work to seriously improve his game. The Bulls are hoping Dunn is the same way—and he has shown every indication of that this season—but they definitely missed out on Dinwiddie considering that he played for their G League affiliate Windy City Bulls in their inaugural season.
And that is why Dinwiddie is a perfect example of just how important G League scouting—especially of your affiliate—is so vital.
The standard line from many fans of a team when a player like Dinwiddie starts to turn into the best-case version of themselves on another squad is: “There was no way to see this coming.”
Or you will see a simple, congratulatory response like head coach Jim Boylen delivered on Tuesday night, “We’re happy for Dinwiddie.” And the Bulls should be happy, as no matter how big or small of a role played in his development, they definitely contributed to his formation to some extent. But the fact that he wasn’t on a two-way contract with the Bulls means that they would’ve had to act fast in giving him a look, lest another NBA team call him up, and that is exactly what happened when the Nets decided to sign Dinwiddie on December 8, 2016.
At the time Dinwiddie got his first opportunity with the Nets, the Bulls point guard rotation was Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant. So yeah, no exactly a “who’s who” of NBA point guards.
Chicago had Dinwiddie for the 2016-17 preseason, where despite not putting up big numbers in limited minutes, he played solidly. Over five preseason games he shot 58 percent from the field and showed a willingness to defend, posting solid steal and block rates. His numbers didn’t jump off the page but at 6-foot 6 it was safe to assume he could become a serviceable NBA player in some regard with some refinement on his jump shot.
Dinwiddie’s time on the Windy City Bulls was a brief nine-game stretch but in that time he played like a player who was ready to have a breakout season.
Over those nine games he averaged 19 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting. The biggest error on the Bulls end of things was not taking those numbers seriously. NBA-quality players put up great numbers in the G League because of their (obvious) higher physicality and/or skill level. And if you compare his numbers with the Windy City Bulls to his statistics during his other G League stints, it is obvious that he was an improving player with room to grow:
G League stats:
2014-15: 12 PPG, 5 APG, 3 RPG, 2 FTA per game
2015-16: 14 PPG, 6 APG, 3 RPG, 4 FTA per game
2016-17: 19 PPG, 8 APG, 3 RPG, 6 FTA per game
Dinwiddie’s development in the counting stats showed a player getting more comfortable with his shot and role on a team. But the free throw attempts are just as important--if not more--because they show a player who is becoming more aggressive, and in Dinwiddie’s case, becoming confident in their game.
And so fittingly, there was Dinwiddie, nailing 50 percent of his eight 3-point attempts and getting the game-winning steal and free throws to seal the win over the Bulls.
This all to say, the hope is that the Bulls front office is looking at the Windy City Bulls as a legitimate talent-pool, and not just a way to train coaches and/or additional staff. This is not the lone case of talent developing up in Hoffman Estates.
Chicago-native Alfonzo McKinnie plays about 15 minutes per game for the Warriors. He averaged 9 RPG for the Windy City Bulls in the 2016-17 season and showed signs of being able to extend his range, shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line after shooting 35 percent from 3-point range in college. He played in all 50 games for the Windy City Bulls in his lone season.
Jake Layman is playing about 15 MPG for the Trail Blazers and is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line. He played on the 2016-17 Windy City Bulls team and scored 17 PPG over an eight game stretch with the team.
Neither McKinnie or Layman are going to develop into superstars. They may never carry a scoring load for their respective teams or even get to start more than a couple times in a season, but that isn’t that the point.
The (Chicago) Bulls are have historically built through the draft, with few free agent success stories sprinkled in. And in terms of recent history, the Bulls took a great first step in the right direction in their (latest) rebuild by getting a great return in the Jimmy Butler trade.
The next steps are going to be identifying and acquiring—whether it be through developing someone currently on the roster, the draft or free agency—a superstar and finding good role players to fit around those central figures. And the G League has emerged as perhaps the best (and most cost effective way) of doing finding latter.
And in the case of Dinwiddie, he is going to be a lot more than a good role player. So while it didn’t cost the Bulls anything to lose him, it still represents an opportunity missed on a guard who has yet to hit his prime.
But life goes on, and there will be other solid talents finding their way in the NBA G League, possibly on the Windy City Bulls. Hopefully, the (Chicago) Bulls spot them first.